Seven Folktales

I suggest you read my introduction to folktales first, but if you wish to go directly to a particular story, my webmaster has prepared an index of links for your convenience.

Index:


Introduction

Folktales are studied for any number of reasons. Some people study them to understand worldwide story-telling motifs. Others examine them as historical documents, preserving customs and attitudes of the specific time period in which they were written down. Others mine folktales for echoes of earlier customs and old religious rites. Others perceive these tales as illuminating the Collective Unconscious, through their manifestations of the archetypal images in them. Some readers embrace these stories as a way to more deeply understand the group mind of a particular culture.

The Italian Folktales selected and retold by Italo Calvino, translated into English by George Martin, does indeed draw one into an Italian paradigm. Peasants and kings, animistic spirits and witches, wander through a backdrop that moves in and out of the fantastic or legendary with fluid ease.

I greatly urge anyone interested in Italian magic to read Calvino's tome of 200 traditional Italian folktales. For example, an Italian transvection spell was preserved in Calvino number 102, The Haughty Prince, collected from Rome:

Over wind and over sea,
Take me to old Benevento's walnut tree.
This folktale reflects popular Italian tradition, in which the walnut tree on the faery mountain of Benevento was a gathering place for witches.

Other folktales seem to obscure a remnant of some earlier folk tradition or custom. Calvino number 21, The Pot of Marjoram, collected from Milan, seems to be such a palimpsest. As the heroine, "Stella Diana," or Starry Diana, daily watered a pot of marjoram or "maggiorana," a nobleman called out:

Stella Diana, Stella Diana,
How many leaves show on your maggiorana?
The heroine replied:
Noble, handsome knight,
How many stars twinkle in the night?
Nobleman:
Stars cannot be counted, so many are there.
Heroine:
See my marjoram you must not dare.
The story involved some suggestive jokes the two play on each other, as well as euphemistic banter, while the two flirt. During one of the jokes, she appeared to him, carrying a torch and veiled in white. He feared she was a ghost or spirit. Interestingly, this is the same appearance of the Goddess Diana Lucinia, Diana the light-bearer.

Particularly odd, is Stella Diana's decision to set a life-sized pastry doll, with a whipped cream center, in her place in their nuptial bed. Stella Diana's noble bridegroom stabbed the doll, believing it her. He then quickly repented of this foul deed, filled with remorse. The heroine leapt out alive. The couple, thereafter, "lived in perfect harmony."

This palimpsest is both intriguing and bizarre in its elements. A great deal of imagery indicated Stella Diana was the Goddess Diana, the moon among the stars. The life-sized pastry doll implies a dim memory of the cakes of Diana, made in the shape of the moon, who in fact is Diana herself.

Another folk tale, apparently a palimpsest, was Calvino's number 107, The Love of the Three Pomegranates. The hero, a king's son, declared he would seek a bride who is white like milk and red like blood--a complexion denoting both beauty and health in Italian tradition. The hero received three pomegranates. Out of each fruit sprang a beautiful girl, each of whom was white and red. He decided to marry the third maiden, but another girl murdered the pomegranate maiden and took her place through trickery. A drop of blood, however, fell to the ground and then metamorphosed into a bird and flew away. This bird was later killed by the same murderess, who had since become the hero's wife. Only a drop of the bird's blood spilled into the hero's garden. It grew into a pomegranate tree. From the largest pomegranate on the tree, the maiden was reborn. The hero was at last reunited with her. Calvino claimed this tale was "distinctly Italian." Another Italian version of the story was Love of the Three Oranges. In other versions, Calvino found the maiden came from a number of fruits and nuts, including a walnut, lemon, or apple.

The pomegranate points to Proserpine, daughter of the Goddess of agriculture. To the Greeks, she was Persephone; to the Etruscans, she was Phersipnea. However, as the Italian Proserpine, she was especially linked to the seed and the protection of the tender shoots growing from the sprouting seeds.

The pomegranate maiden from the story apparently is linked to the seed of the fruit, which produces juice, red like blood, when the fruit is cut into.

In a variant from Liguria, Calvino number 8, The Little Shepherd, the maiden emerged from an apple. When the shepherd cuts into the fruit, a voice from inside the apple said, "Gently, please, or you'll hurt me." The shepherd cut and ate part of the fruit, but apparently did not damage the seeds.

The motif of the maiden inside a fruit or nut can also be found in a Tuscan version called the Apple Girl, Calvino number 85. In this version, the apple bleeds when it is pricked by a dagger, rather like a pomegranate.

Another intriguing tale was Calvino number 64, Rosina in the Oven. Collected from Tuscany, the region from which Leland said Aradia came, this tale reveals some ancient roots, possibly Etruscan. The pretty heroine discovered five toads when she pulled up a turnip in the dark. She became radiantly white, due to a spell cast over her by the toads, shining beautifully in the night. Unfortunately, a ray of sunlight transformed Rosina into a snake. The heroine turned back into human form when she was placed in an oven with a bundle of wood. As Calvino's version stated, "...out of the flames leapt a maiden stark naked, fresh as a rose, and more radiant than fire..." (p. 229)

The maiden seems to be a lunar Goddess, shining beautifully in the night. Quite possibly this points to a connection with Diana Lucina and Vesta. In Roman thought, Diana Lucina and Vesta were often linked as Diana-Vesta. Perhaps a similar link existed between the Etruscan Goddess Losna and Feronia? The Etruscans had a large store of literature and mythology which has been lost. The snake was an ancient lunar symbol, which renewed itself by shedding its skin, just as the moon renewed itself through its monthly cycle. Perhaps this tale reflects an Etruscan myth about the lunar Goddess and her association with fire?

There is a Tuscan proverb about storytelling: "The tale is not beautiful if nothing is added to it." In other words, a good storyteller will enhance or embellish a tale. That reason, of course, is one of many factors why stories mutate or evolve over time. Yet, good stories never quite die.

Below are several Italian folktales, which I have taken the liberty to retell in my own manner. My source is reading Martin's translation of Calvino's stories.

I resisted the temptation to insert Aradia into any of the following tales. Nevertheless, these folktales provide a window to the magical milieu of Italian folk tradition.


1. Giricoccola

A wealthy merchant, who had three daughters, was due to leave town on business. "My daughers, I shall be gone for several years. Before going," he said to the girls, "I shall give you a present, as I wish to leave you happy. Tell me what you want."

The girls thought it over and said they wanted gold, silver, and silk for spinning. Their father bought gold, silver, and silk, then departed, advising them to behave during his absense.

The youngest of the three sisters, whose name was Giricoccola, was the most beautiful. Giricoccola had lovely, white and red cheeks, a comely step, a musical laugh, and eyes that sparkled like diamonds. Thus, her sisters always envied her. When their father had gone, the oldest girl took the gold to be spun. The second girl took the silver, thus leaving the silk for Giricoccola. After dinner, they all sat down by the window to spin. People passing by and glancing at the girls always stared at the youngest. As Luna the moon rose at night and looked in the window, she sang:

"Lovely is the one with gold,
Lovelier still is the one with silver,
But the one with silk surpasses them both.
Good night, lovely girls and ugly girls alike."
Hearing that, the sisters were consumed with rage and decided to exchange threads. The next day, they gave Giricoccola the silver and after dinner, sat down by the window to spin. When the moon rose that night, Luna sang:
"Lovely is the one with gold,
Lovelier still is the one with silk,
But the one with silver surpasses them both.
Good night, lovely girls and ugly girls alike."
Infuriated, the sisters taunted and bullied Giriccocola so much that the child did not know what to do. The next afternoon, they went to the window to spin. They gave Giriccola the gold to see what the Fata of the moon would say. The minute Luna rose in the sky, she sang:
"Lovely is the one with silver,
Lovelier still is the one with silk,
But the one with gold surpasses them both.
Good night, lovely girls and ugly girls alike."
By now the sisters couldn't stand the sight of Giriccocola, so they locked her in the hayloft. The little girl was there weeping when Luna opened the little window with a moonbeam and said, "Come with me." Luna took the girl by the hand and carried her home with her.

The following afternoon, the two sisters spun by themselves in the window. Fata Luna rose in the evening and sang:

"Lovely is the one with gold,
Lovelier still is the one with silver,
But the one spinning in my house surpasses them both.
Good night, lovely girls and ugly girls alike."
Upon hearing that, the sisters ran to the hayloft. Giriccocola was gone. They sent for a woman astrologer to find out where their sister was. The astrologer said that Giriccocola was at the moon's house and more comfortable than she had ever been.

"How can we bring about her death?" asked the sisters.

"Leave it all to me," replied the astrologer, who was also a brutta maga, or evil sorceress. She dressed as a gypsy and went to peddle her wares under the moon's windows.

Giriccocola looked out, and the astrologer said, "Would you like these handsome pins? I'll let you have them for a song!" The pins truly delighted Giriccocola and she invited the astrologer inside. "Here, let me put one in your hair," said the astrologer, and thrust the pin into Giriccocola's head. The girl at once turned into a white marble statue. The astrologer dashed off to report to the sisters.

When Fata Luna returned from her journey around the world, she found the girl changed into a statue and said, "Didn't I tell you to let no one in? I should leave you just like that for disobeying me." Nevertheless, she finally relented and drew the pin from the girl's head. Giriccocola came back to life and promised to never let anyone else in.

A year later, the sisters returned to ask the astrologer if Giriccocola was still dead. The astrologer consulted her magic books and said that, for some strange reason, the girl was alive again and well. The sisters once more urged the woman to put Giriccocola to death.

This time, the astrologer took a box of ivory combs to peddle under Fata Luna's windows. They were too much for the girl to resist. She called the woman inside, but the minute the comb touched Giriccocola's head, she turned back into a statute. The astrologer dashed off with the news to her sisters.

Fata Luna returned home, and seeing the girl a statue once more, flew into a rage and called her every name under the stars. At last, when she had calmed down, Luna again forgave her. She removed the comb from Giriccocola's head and the maiden revived.

"But if it happens one more time," warned the Fata, "you are going to remain a statue." Giriccocola solemnly promised to admit no one from that time on.

A year later, the sisters consulted the astrologer only to learn that Giriccocola was alive again. At their urging, the brutta maga came with a white, silk gown, embroidered with silver and gold for sale. It was the most beautiful gown anyone ever saw. Giriccocola was so charmed with it that she had to try it on. The minute she did, she became a statue. When Fata Luna returned home, she said, "Honestly, there is no accounting for the foolishness of mortals." The Fata washed her hands of the matter, selling the statue to a chimney sweep for three coins.

The chimney sweep took the beautiful statue around the city with him, tied to his donkey's pack saddle. One day, the king's son saw it and fell in love with the statue. He bought the white marble statue for its weight in gold, and took it to his room, where he would spend hours adoring the stone maiden. As beautiful as the stone statue was, the prince fantasized about how this maiden would appear if she were alive. She would, he thought, have lovely white and red cheeks, a comely step, a musical laugh, and eyes that sparkled like diamonds. Whenever he left the room, he would lock the door, desiring to be her sole worshiper.

His sisters had seen the beautiful gown when he brought the statue into the palace. They were anxious to each have a gown like the statue to wear to the gala ball. Using a skeleton key, they entered their brother's room while he was out, and removed the maiden's gown.

No sooner was it off, then Giriccocola stirred and came back to life. The sisters almost died of fright, but Giriccocola reassured them with her story. Then, they had her hide behind the door to surprise their brother upon his return. The king's son was frantic upon discovering the statue missing from its pedestal. Out jumped Giriccocola, and told him everything from beginning to end. The youth took her at once to his parents and introduced her as his bride. The wedding was celebrated immediately. Giriccocola's sisters learned of her marriage to the king's son from the astrologer, and died of rage right there and then.

On the evening of the wedding, the moon rose, and Luna sang:

"Lovely was the one with gold,
Lovelier still was the one with silver,
But the one in the king's palace surpasses them all.
Good night, lovely girls and ugly girls alike."

This story was retold from a folktale collected by Italo Calvino Italian Folktales (1956), translated into English by George Martin (1980). Calvino collected it from Bologna, Italy. The story, Calvino #50, is not a Tuscan tale, but I found it intriguing. Perhaps I ought to have yielded to the temptation to insert Diana's name in place of "Luna" (moon). Diana, another Roman moon Goddess, was often seen as the protectress of women. The Moon, herself, does rescue the heroine from her envious sisters, bringing her to "the moon's house."

Many Americans will be reminded of the more familiar Snow White. Only, it was the dwarves who revived Snow White, by removing the strangling ribbons and poisonous comb. Yet, I wonder if this folktale reflects a dim memory of a girl who sought protection from dysfunctional family members in a temple to Luna or Diana. The house of the moon, in which Giriccocola becomes a servant, seems more terrestrial then celestial. Spindles and spools of thread were frequently given as offerings to Diana at her temples.

The heroine's thrice transformation into a statue would, therefore, have been an embelishment to the original tale. Alternatively, it could have been a reference to a stone image of the maiden Diana--perhaps a thank offering to her.


2. Beautiful Fanta-Ghiro

In olden times, there was a king who had no sons, but only two beautiful daughters. The oldest was named Assuntina, and the youngest was Fanta-Ghiro.

The king, who was always sick and irritable, stayed shut up in his room the whole day long. He had three chairs--a sky blue chair, a black chair, and a red chair. Every morning, upon going to greet him, his daughters were quick to note in which chair he sat. If it was in the sky blue chair, that meant he was in high spirits. If he sat in the black chair, that spelled death. The red chair meant war.

One day the girls found their father in the red chair. "Father!" exclaimed the eldest, "What has happened?"

The king replied, "I've just received a declaration of war from the king of the country next door to our land. What will I do? I'm ill, as usual, and there's no one to take command of the army for me. Where can I get a good general at a moment's notice?"

"If you'll allow me," said the oldest girl, "I'll be your general myself. I command your household. Do you think I couldn't command your soldiers?"

"Don't be silly! That's no task for a woman!" said the king.

"Do let me try," begged Assuntina.

"Very well. We shall try," said the king. "But understand that if, along the way, you get to talking about women's work, you march straight back home."

Assuntina agreed to that condition, and the king ordered his trusted squire, Tonino, to mount his horse and ride with the princess to war, but to bring her straight home to the palace the first time she mentioned women's work.

The princess, dressed regally in silk, mounted her horse sidesaddle and rode with the squire off to war. The army marched behind them. They had already gone a good long way when they came to a cane field and started through it. The princess exlaimed, "What magnificent canes! If we had them at home, we could make any number of distaffs for our spinning!"

"Halt, princess!" cried Tonino. "I am under orders to take you back to the palace. You brought up women's work." They wheeled their horses around and the whole army about-faced and followed them back.

Then the youngest went to the king. "Majesty, let me take command of the army."

"No, a thousand times no!" he replied. "You're too young. How could you command an army if your sister could not?"

"Is there any harm in letting me try, Papa? I promise not to disgrace you. Let me try."

It was agreed that Fanta-Ghiro would go to war. She dressed as a warrior, with helmet, armor, sword, and two pistols, and galloped off with Tonino at her side and the army behind them. They passed the cane field without comment and soon reached the border.

"Before going into battle," said Fanta-Ghiro, "I'd like a word with the enemy king."

The enemy king was a handsome young man. The minute he set eyes upon Fanta-Ghiro, he suspected she was a maiden rather than a general. He said, "You are young to command such a large army."

Fanta-Ghiro replied, "I am a member of the royal family, and my father, the king, has given me full authority as general of the army."

Intrigued, the king invited Fanta-Ghiro to his palace to agree on the reasons for the war before going into battle.

They arrived at the palace and the king ran privately to his mother. "Mama, Mama," he said. "Listen, I've brought home with me the general in command of the enemy forces, but just wait until you see him.

Beautiful Fanta-Ghiro
With eyes so black and speech soft and low;
She's a maiden, I know, I know!"
His mother replied, "Take him into the armory. If the general is really a girl, arms won't interest her at all, and she won't even look at them."

The king led Fanta-Ghiro into the armory. Fanta-Ghiro took down the swords hanging on the walls, carefully noting how they were gripped and how heavy they were. She moved onto the guns and pistols, breaking them open to see how they were loaded.

The king ran back to his mother. "Mama, the general handles weapons like a man, but the more I look at him, the more I'm convinced of what I say.

Beautiful Fanta-Ghiro
With eyes so black and speech soft and low;
She's a maiden, I know, I know!"
His mother said, "Take him into the garden. If the general is a girl, she will pick a rose or violet and pin it on her bosom. If he is a man, he will choose a jasmine, sniff it, then stick it behind his ear."

The king and Fanta-Ghiro went for a stroll in the garden. She plucked a blossom of jasmine, sniffed it, then stuck it behind her ear as she discussed matters of war.

In great distress, the king returned to his mother. "The general did what a man would do, but I stick to what I've said all along.

Beautiful Fanta-Ghiro
With eyes so black and speech soft and low;
She's a maiden, I know, I know!"
Realizing that her son was head over heals in love, the queen said, "Invite him to dinner. If the general holds the bread against his chest when he cuts it, then the general is a girl. But if he holds it in the air and cuts it, he is a man for sure and you have fallen in love for nothing."

At dinner, the results of this test were no better. Fanto-Ghiro cut her bread like a man, discussing politics.

The king, however, continued to say to his mother:

"Beautiful Fanta-Ghiro
With eyes so black and speech soft and low;
She's a maiden, I know, I know!"
"Well, put him to the final test," proposed the queen. "Invite him to swim with you in the fish pond in the garden. If the general is a girl, she will certainly refuse."

He extended the invitation, and Fanto-Ghiro replied, "Of course, I would love to go swimming; not now though. It is late, but I will tommorow morning."

She took Tonino, the squire, aside and said, "Leave the palace and return tommorow morning with a letter bearing the royal seal. The letter should say, 'Dear son, Fanto-Ghiro, I am deathly ill and wish to see you before I die.'"

The next day, they went to the fish pond. The king undressed and dived in first and immediately invited Fanto-Ghiro to do the same.

"Please wait a little longer, for I am wet with perspiration," she said, listening for the sound of approaching hoofbeats.

The king insisted that she get undressed. Fanto-Ghiro replied, "I don't know what it is but I suddenly feel quite uneasy, as though something terrible were about to happen."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed the king. "Nothing is going to happen. Get undressed and jump in. The water is fine. What could go wrong?"

At that moment, hoofbeats were heard and up rode Tonino. He handed Fanto-Ghiro a letter with the royal seal.

Fanto-Ghiro turned pale. "I'm terribly sorry, Majesty. But this is bad news. My father lies on his deathbed and is asking for me. I must depart at once. All you and I can do is make peace, and if any matters remain to be said, you will find me at home in my kingdom. Farewell. I will go swimming with you some other time."

The king stayed in the fish pond, alone and naked. He still believed Fanto-Ghiro was a girl, but she had left before he could prove it.

Before leaving, Fanto-Ghiro stopped by the guest room in the palace to get her things. On the bed, she placed this note for the king: "You must come and meet the king's two daughters, for one is my sister."

After the king found and read, and reread, the note, he continued to stand there like a fool. At last, jubilant, he ran to his mother, "Mama, Mama, I guessed it. The general was a girl after all!"

Without giving his mother time to reply, he jumped in his carriage and sped off after Fanto-Ghiro.

When Fanto-Ghiro returned home, she embraced her father. She told him all was well, for she had won the war and made the other king abandon his plans to invade their kingdom. At that moment, the clatter of wheels was heard in the courtyard. It was the neighboring king, head over heels in love. As soon as he saw Fanto-Ghiro, he asked, "General, will you marry me?"

The nuptials were celebrated. The two kings made peace, and when Fanto-Ghiro's father died, he left everything to Fanto-Ghiro and her husband. Thus, she became queen of two kingdoms.


This story was retold from a Tuscan folktale collected by Italo Calvino Italian Folktales (1956), translated into English by George Martin (1980). Calvino collected it, Calvino #69, from from Montale Pistoiese, Italy. He called this tale Fanto-Ghiro the Beautiful. The plot of a maid dressing as a man, because her father has no sons, was a popular Italian story-tradition, which was particularly well-developed in Tuscany. Several stories in Rachel Harriett Busk's Roman Legends (1877) have heroines who dress a as a young man in order to travel safely. Likewise, folktales about an intelligent woman's wit and resolve to conquor difficulties were a common motif in Italian folklore.


3. The Stolen Crown

One day a king went hunting with his prime minister and, feeling very weary, lay down under a willow tree and went to sleep. Upon waking, the first thing he did was look for his crown. It was neither on the ground beside him, nor on his head, nor in the game bag. Right away he called to his prime minister, "Who took my crown?"

"Sacred Majesty, I would not dream of touching your crown! Nor have I seen anyone else who might have taken it!"

In a rage, the king slew his prime minister, even though the poor man had told the truth. The real culprit was Fata Alcina, the queen of the faeries.

Ashamed to appear in public without his crown, the king shut himself up in his room and gave orders that he was on no account to be disturbed.

This king had three fine sons who loved him dearly. They were much perplexed by their father's behavior. One day the eldest said to the other two, "Why would our father seclude himself thus? Perhaps he has had some accident or injury? I will go and try to cheer him up." But the king shouted him out of the room and might have struck the youth had he not left.

"Let me try," said the middle boy. Yet he received the same welcome and retreated, completely mortified. "Perhaps it is something truly horrible."

The youngest son, Benjamin, who was his father's favorite, went in and begged the king to say what the trouble was.

"I cannot tell you," replied the king, "It is too humiliating for words."

"Father, if you will not tell me what's the matter, I shall fall upon my sword and kill myself. I prefer death rather than live and see you suffer so." The boy drew his sword and placed its tip at his heart.

"Stop, my son!" cried the king. "I'll tell you everything!" He explained in detail about the loss of the crown, but entreated his son to say nothing about it to his brothers.

Benjamin listened attentatively, then spoke.

"The only person under the sun who could have made off with your crown is Fata Alcina, who rules the wood. She loves pretty things. I'll search the world over for her. Either I'll bring the crown back or you'll never see me again."

Benjamin saddled a horse, filled a purse with money, and set out. At a certain point, the road branched off in three different directions. A stone marker stood at the beginning of each road, with a carved figure and words. The first stone read, "WHOEVER TAKES THIS ROAD WILL RETURN." The second stone read, "GOODNESS KNOWS WHAT YOUR FATE WILL BE IF YOU TAKE THIS ROAD." The thirds stone read, "WHOEVER TAKES THIS ROAD WILL NEVER RETURN." After some thought, he set foot upon the third road.

For awhile the road was good, but then came brambles and stones and all kinds of wild animals. The horse could go no further, so Benjamin dismounted, unbridled the horse, kissed the horse goodbye and said in a tearful voice, "Farewell, faithful mount." He continued his journey on foot.

After walking and walking, he came to a stone house and knocked on the door, for he was quite hungry by this time.

"Who is it?" asked a voice inside.

"A poor, horseless knight, requesting a little refreshment."

A woman opened the door and asked in amazement, "What on earth are you doing in these wild parts, lad? I am Bora, wife of Aquilo, the North Wind. He has gone out to blow through the Beech trees, but when he comes back he'll be cross and hungry. Why, he's apt to eat you up or blow you to your bare bones. Go away."

Benjamin explained to the woman he was roaming the lands searching for Fata Alcina and why. The woman took pity upon him, but said she didn't know any Fata Alcina. Yet she gave him something to eat and hid the lad under the bed. She mused, "Perhaps my husband knows this Fata."

Aquilo arrived, angry, hungry, and as ravenous as a wolf. The North Wind said:

The stench of humans is reeking here;
He smells, he smells very near;
He is hiding, I smell his fear!
I know, I know, he's somewhere near.
"Nonsense," replied his wife. "All you smell is old bones burning in the fire. Come on to the table. Your hunger is making you imagine things." She serve him a big bowl of delicious macaroni.

The couple both made a meal off the macaroni and when the North Wind had eaten all he could hold, he said, "I am so filled by your excellent meal, I would not harm anyone here. Are you quite sure, my beautiful Bora, that there is no one else in the house?"

Bora smiled. "Aquilo, most good, most great, a lad has come here with a question, which surely only you can answer. This question will help not only his father, but also a king. As you promise not to harm him, I'll bring him out."

Aquilo, who was quite well fed now, said, "Bring him out."

"Good day, Wind, Master of the North," said the king's son.

"Who might you be?"

"I am Benjamin, and I am searching for my father's crown and the whereabouts of Fata Alcina, queen of the faeries. I believe she has stolen it."

As the North Wind was in a fine mood, he spoke to Benjamin as a friend. Aquilo told Benjamin that in the course of his routine journeys around the world he had indeed seen his father's crown on Fata Alcina's bed, together with a shawl of stars and a musical, golden apple, both of which Alcina had stolen from two queens, sisters, now imprisoned in a well by a magic spell. Finally, he revealed the locations of Fata Alcina's palace as well as the spot in which the two queens were imprisoned.

"How can I get inside Fata Alcina's palace?" asked Benjamin.

"Take this potion," said Aquilo, "with it you can put the watchman to sleep. Then you can go in and find the gardener."

"How will I deal with the gardener?"

"Have no fear," said Aquilo, "Fata Alcina's gardener is a friend of mine. I can recommend you to him."

Aquilo added, "I'm no longer hungry tonight, but do not be here tommorow night, or I'll blow you to nothing but bare bones."

Benjamin thanked the North Wind and his gentle wife and set off at once to the Fata's palace. He arrived a day later. He used the potion put the watchman to sleep. He found the gardener, who remarked that the North Wind had blown by and mentioned the good character of a youth named Benjamin to him.

The gardener then proceded to tell Benjamin about the palace. "The steps are guarded by two black, stone warriors, who have orders to kill anyone who tries to pass, with exception of myself when I take flowers to the Fata."

Benjamin dressed as a gardener, picked up a large vase of white roses that hid his face, and went up the steps, past the two guards. He entered the chamber of the sleeping Fata. Benjamin picked up the crown, which she had placed upon the canopy along with the shawl of stars and the golden apple. Then he turned and looked at Fata Alcina: she was so beautiful, he had the urge to kiss her as she slept. He was about to do so when the golden apple sounded a few notes of music. Afraid the Fata might awaken, Benjamin fled, hiding his face in a vase of jasmines so the stone guards would not see him. It was a narrow escape, since whoever kissed Fata Alcina turned into a stone statue.

Benjamin thanked the gardener and took the way back. After walking for six or seven hours, he came to a well gone dry. It was so deep, he couldn't see the bottom. Circling above this well was a goose, with wings wide enough to shelter several persons at a time. The goose landed and allowed Benjamin to get under his wing, then flew to the bottom.

There stood two queens, held prisoner by Alcina's spell. "Here are your shawl of stars and musical, golden apple," said Benjamin, jumping out from under the goose's wing. "You are now free. If you wish to leave with me, take your places here under the goose."

Overjoyed, the two queens joined him under the wings and the goose soared from the well, passed over the woods and mountains and came to the spot where Benjamin's horse was still waiting.

Benjamin bid the goose farewell, mounted the two queens upon his horse, and returned to his father.

At the sight of his crown, the king was beside himself with joy. He made his son kneel and placed the crown upon the boy's head. "As you have journeyed to the Fata's realm, and won this prize, it is yours, and you deserve it," said the king.

Benjamin married the younger of the two queens. There were celebrations galore and a joyful life afterwards.


This story was retold from a folktale collected by Italo Calvino, Italian Folktales (1956), translated into English by George Martin (1980). Calvino collected it from Dalmatia, Italy. The Stolen Crown isCalivino #46. To me, this story reads like an initiation story. The hero travels to the realm of Faerie, or the nether region, to bring back a prize, in this case, a crown, like Aradia brought back death's crown. He must get past a watchman or guardian. He receives advice or instruction, and is finally led by a magical guide. In any case, this folktale is full of old motifs sewn together. Calvino wondered if perhaps the storyteller had gotten some of the details wrong. I orginally wondered if "Fata Alcina" should have been called "Fata Albina." In Tuscan streghe lore, Fata Albina is a faery associated with the white barley flour. She was also associated with the dawn.

I have since learned out that "Alcina" was a character briefly appearing in two Italian epic poems, Orlando innamorato (Orlando in Love) and Orlando furioso (Mad Orlando). These Italian Renaissance works borrowed ideas from the Carolingian and Arthurian cycles. A beautiful enchantress, Alcina, took any knight as a lover that visited her bespelled garden. Yet, whenever Alcina finally tired of their companionship, she transformed them into something for her garden: ornamental trees, animals, and stones.

The presence of Alcina in a folktale collected by Italo Calvino illustrates how ideas from folklore and fiction influenced each other. Alcina the enchantress from Italian Renaissance poetry became Alcina the faery in an Italian folktale. In the folktale, whoever kissed Fata Alcina transformed into stone.

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4. Olivia

Once upon a time there was a wealthy nobleman. He lost his wife in childbirth and became so filled with remorse and bitterness he had to leave. He took his newborn daughter to be raised by a farmer's family.

In the beginning, the farmer was reluctant to take on the burden. "I have children of my own," he explained, "and we are but poor peasants with country ways."

"It doesn't matter," replied the rich man. "Please do me a favor and keep her, and you will be repaid. If I've not come back for her by the time she's ten, then you are free to do as you please, for that will mean I'll never return and the child will be with you for good."

So, the nobleman and his tennant farmer came to an agreement. He left some gold to care for the child during his ten years of absense and the right to till the land freely. The nobleman left to journey to distant lands, supposedly for business.

The baby was nursed by the farmer's wife, who, finding the infant so gentle and pretty became as attached to her as if she had been her own daughter. Her foster-parents called her Olivia. The child learned to walk in no time, played with the family's children like a sister, and did everything children of her age do. Now, this family, being simple and ignorant country folk, kept the old ways. Along with Latin prayers of the church, people recited charms for good fortune and muttered banishments agains the evil eye of malignant witches and spirits. They talked to the moon, tied garlands of flowers to wells and trees, and watched for omens. Olivia learned these ways too.

As she neared ten, the farmer and his wife looked for the nobleman to show up any day and reclaim her. Her tenth year passed, and also her 11th year passed. Then the 12th, 13th, and 14th passed, without any sign of, nor even word from the rich man. At last, they concluded he had died.

By the time she was 18, Olivia was truly a fine girl. She could spin, weave, and sew. She could even stretch sometimes meager rations if the family farm's harvest had been scant, and cook it into a filling meal. By now the gold the rich man had given them was gone--as the nobleman had left only enough for 10 years to support Olivia. But the farmer's family still thought they had gotten the better part of the bargain, for Olivia was loving, beautiful, and cherished by all.

Olivia, herself, was quite content with her foster family. One morning of her 18th year, a knock was heard on the door. The farmer opened up, and there stood the nobleman. "I've come for my daughter," he said.

"What!" exclaimed Olivia's foster-mother. "You said if you'd not returned by the time she was ten, she'd be our daughter. Eighteen years have passed. What right can you possibly have to her?"

"I don't care," replied the rich man. "I didn't show up sooner, because I couldn't. But the girl is my daughter, my only daugher, and I'm taking her back."

"Well, we're not giving her to you. That's for sure!" answered the farmer angrily.

A bitter quarrel ensued. The nobleman took the matter to court. The court granted him custody of the girl, since she was his own daughter. The poor farmer and his family, therefore, had no choice but to comply with the law. They all wept, the most heartbroken of all being Olivia herself, as this nobleman was a total stranger to her.

Her foster-mother hugged Olivia and said, "Never forget that you will always be in our hearts, and you will always be part of our family." She slipped two small items into Olivia's hands: a curious old key on a red ribbon and a small, red pouch filled with salt. "I give these to keep you in good fortune. I wish you much luck in your new household."

The nobleman threatened, in Olivia's hearing, as the girl parted from the woman, "You are not to be in contact with my daughter again or it will go very ill indeed."

When they arrived at his home, the first thing the nobleman said to Olivia was, "I am master here, and you, like everyone else here, will do as I say. Heaven help you if you ever disobey me."

Olivia bowed her head modestly, and said, "Yes, sir."

The nobleman was pleased with Olivia's attitude and hoped to arrange a profitable marriage for her.

Yet, he was not long pleased with her. Olivia, alas, had been raised with kind, country peasants, not a noble family. She did not know the ways of court, nor how to act as one of the nobles. Though she was modest and kind-hearted, the rich man thought her very uncouth. When she first sat at table, she drank soup from her bowl. Indeed, all her food, she picked up with her hands, then wiping them on the tablecloth when the rich man scowled.

She tried very hard to please the man who was now her father, but it seemed no one ever gave her instruction on how to behave until after she had done something else wrong.

One day, she plied her hand at some spinning and weaving to show her father her industry. Though the thread she spun and the cloth she wove was very fine and even, the master of the house was not impressed with Olivia's spinning and weaving skills. He told her any decent serving wench could do as much. He was very annoyed, however, that she never learned to embroider like a fine lady.

One evening, the rich man found Olivia murmuring softly, almost prayerfully, in a chair sitting before the hearth fire. In truth, many of the servants had seen her do as much, but had never said anything to her, or the master of the house, about it.

The master inquired, "What are you doing?"

Olivia responded, "I am saying a good fortune charm, that my mo--that she-who-weened-me taught me." Olivia was careful to never to refer to the farmer and his wife as her parents, as it put the nobleman in a rage. Olivia showed him the key on the red ribbon, and the red pouch with salt in it.

Now, this rich man viewed himself as very pious. He equated such charms with witchcraft and ignorant country superstition. Without a word, he grabbed both key and pouch and cast them into the fire.

Olivia was heartbroken that these two gifts from her foster-mother had been destroyed.

Olivia thought sadly, "Now, I may have no luck at all in this house. I wish he did not dislike anything connected with my old family. Perhaps, it would be best if I were married and away from him."

Late one night, the rich man thought he heard Olivia speaking outside on the balcony, in the moonlight. The sky was clear and some stars could be seen shining faintly around the glory of the radiant full moon.

"Daughter, to whom were you talking at this later hour?" asked the master of the house.

"To the Moon," answered Olivia truthfully.

"The moon?" he asked, incredulously.

"Yes, I asked Mia Donna Luna for some good fortune that I might find a suitable husband." The name, Mia Donna Luna simply meant "My Lady Moon" and as a country girl raised among peasants Olivia viewed that name as synonymous with the Madonna. Did not her holy image stand upon the moon, surrounded by stars in the church where they attended mass?

The master became quite angry, for he now believed the girl was conjuring a husband through sorcery, using some diabolical spirit of the moon. He slapped her soundly on both ears and ordered her back to her room. Furthermore, he was furious that she would not wait as a modest maid should for her father to arrange a marriage.

Weeping, the girl went to her chamber, but as usual she was left in ignorance as to the nature of her error in the master's eyes. She wondered if perhaps she ought not to have been out of doors alone so late at night.

Three days later, Olivia was walking in the garden beneath the balcony on which she had prayed to Mia Donna Luna.

To her surprise, there was a curious old key upon the ground. It was the exact twin of the one she had been given by the farmer's wife, her foster-mother.

Joyfully, she picked it up and raised it skyward in both hands. She said:

Not have I gotten this key, which I came across,
I carry it with me, but not carry with me just a key,
However, the fortune I carry,
Who herself is always with me!
However, the master of the house was now quite suspicious of her behavior. Without seeming to, he watched her constantly. On spying her holding up the key, he ran forward and seized her. Upon seeing the master was so angry, she slipped the key in her bodice and dutifully followed her father, wondering what ignorant thing she had done now.

This time, without a word, he led her to a work bench, motioned for her to stretch out her hands and, with a sharp knife, cut them clean off. Then he ordered her to be taken to the woods and abandoned.

The unfortunate girl remained there, more dead then alive, and with no hands, what could she do? When she was a little girl, she thought she might make her way as a humble weaver, but with no hands that was not possible. Indeed, she could not even request work as a servant in a household. Who would take in a handless servant?

She set out and walked and walked until she came to a large palace. She thought of going in and asking for alms, but the palace was surrounded by a high, doorless wall, which enclosed a beautiful garden. Jutting out over the top of the wall were branches of a pear tree laden with ripe pears, yellow as the rising moon.

"Oh, if only I had one of those pears!" exclained Olivia. "Pear tree, would you bend down?"

The words were no sooner out of her mouth then the wall opened and the pear tree bent down its branches so that Olivia, who had no hands, could reach the pears with her teeth and eat them while they were still on the tree. When she had eaten her fill, the tree raised its branches once more. The wall closed back together and Olivia returned to the woods. She now knew the secret and went and stood under the pear tree every day at 11:00 and made a meal off of the fruit. Then she would return to the thick of the woods and rest until the next day.

These were fine pears, and a favorite treat of the king, who lived in the palace. One day he sent his servant out to pick a few. The servant came back quite dismayed. "Majesty, some animal has been climbing the tree and gnawing the pears down to the core!"

"We'll catch the creature," said the king. He built a hut out of branches and lay in wait every night. Though he lost sleep, the pears continued to be nibbled. He therefore decided to watch in the daytime. At 11:00, he saw the wall open and pear tree bend down its branches and Olivia bite into first one pear and then another. The king, who had been prepared to shoot an animal, dropped his gun in amazement. All he could do was stare at the beautiful maiden until the tree stood up and the wall closed behind her.

He scoured the woods for the thief. Suddenly, he came upon her, sleeping under a bush. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" asked the king. "How dare you steal my pears. I was about to shoot you down with my shotgun!"

By way of reply, Olivia showed him her stumps, which were not yet fully healed.

"You poor girl!" exclaimed the king. "What villain has mutilated you so cruelly?" After hearing her story, he said, "I don't care about the pears. Come and live in my palace. My mother, the queen, will indeed keep you and look after you."

Olivia was presented to the queen mother, but her son mentioned neither the pear tree bending down nor the wall opening by itself, lest his mother think the girl a witch and detest her. Neither did he tell the queen that Olivia was of noble birth, nor the name of the father who had mutilated her. Instead, he said only Olivia had been ill-treated by a wicked master.

The queen mother did not actually refuse to take Olivia in, but she had no liking for her and gave her a minimum to eat. The king, in her opinion, was too charmed by the handless maiden's beauty. To rid him of any foolish notions he might have, she said, "My son, it's time you looked about for a wife. Any number of princesses could be yours for the asking. Take servants, horses, and money and travel around until you have found her."

The king obediently departed and was away visiting courts in many lands. Six months later he came home and said, "Don't be angry with me, Mama. There's no shortage of princesses in this world, but I met none so kind and beautiful as Olivia. I've decided Olivia is the only maiden I'll marry."

"What?" exclaimed the queen. "A handless girl from the woods? We know nothing about her! Would you disgrace yourself like that?" The queen mother's words fell on deaf ears. The king married Olivia forthwith in the palace garden courtyard.

Olivia kept the old key, which she had tucked in her bodice. Now she wore it on a satin, red ribbon around her neck. She had asked the king to string it on such a cord for her, as it reminded her of her foster-mother.

Incidentally, Olivia had applied herself diligently to learn the manners of a noble lady in her father's household, so she was no longer an uncouth country lass. She made a most gracious queen. She became beloved of the people and the court.

Nevertheless, having a daughter-in-law of unknown origins was more than the old queen could bear, and she lost no opportunity to be petty and rude to Olivia, taking care on the other hand not to displease the king. Wisely, Olivia never made any protests.

In the meantime, Olivia expected a baby, to the great joy of the king; but certain neighboring kings suddenly declared war on him, obliging him to lead his soldiers to the defense of the kingdom. Before leaving, he wanted to entrust Olivia to his mother. But the old queen said, "No, I will not assume such responsibility. I, too, am leaving the palace and shutting myself up in a convent."

Before he left Olivia at the palace, the king urged her to dictate a letter to him daily.

Thus the king left for the battlefield and the old queen mother for the convent, while Olivia remained at the court with all the servants. Everyday, a messenger left the court with a letter from Olivia to the king, but at the same time an aunt of the old queen plied between court and convent to inform the queen mother of everything that went on. Upon learning that Olivia had given birth to two fine babies, the queen mother left the convent and returned to the palace under the pretext of coming home to help her daughter-in-law.

Yet, late one night, she called the guards, forced Olivia out of bed, thrust a baby under each of their mother's arms and told the guards to take the young queen back to the woods where the king had found her.

"Leave her there to starve to death," she said to the guards. "Your heads will roll if you disobey my orders and if you ever breath a word of this."

Then the queen mother wrote her son that his wife had died in childbirth along with her babies. So that he would believe the lie, she had three wax figures made, then held a grand funeral in the royal chapel. At the ceremony, she wore mourning and wept many tears.

Still at war, the king was badly shaken by this unfortunate event. He did not suspect any wrong-doing on the part of his mother.

In the meantime, Olivia, frightened by the queen mother's actions, walked as far as possible from the palace. She thought, "Who knows what the queen mother might do to my babies if I am seen remaining near?"

She walked very far, dying of hunger and thirst with those two babies in her arms. At last she came to a pool of water, where an old woman was washing clothes.

"My good woman," said Olivia. "Please squeeze the water out of one of your cloths into my mouth. I am dying of thirst."

"No," replied the old woman. "Do as I say. Kneel down and drink right from the pool."

"But can't you see I have no hands and must hold my babies in my arms?"

"That doesn't matter. Go on and try."

Olivia knelt down, but as she bent over the pool, the key on the red, satin cord suddenly dangled into the water. Since she had no hands to take the key off or put it on, Olivia had been wearing it when the queen mother banished her. The key's sudden movement startled her and both babies slipped out of her arms and into the water.

"Oh, my babies! My babies!"

Without clear thought, Olivia plunged her stumps into the clear water, trying to grab them, screaming, "Help! Help!"

The old woman didn't budge. "Have no fear. They'll not drown."

At that moment, Olivia's hands grew back, sound and whole. She grabbed hold of her babies and pulled them out, no worse for having been in the enchanted pool.

"Be on your way now," said the old woman. "You no longer lack hands to do for yourself." She was out of sight before Olivia could even thank her for her fine deed.

Wandering about the woods in search of a refuge, Olivia came to a small villa with the door wide open. She went in to ask for shelter, but no one was there. A kettle of porridge was boiling on the hearth, next to some heavier foods. Olivia ate something and nursed her children, then went to a room where there was a bed with two cradles. She put the children to bed and lay down herself. The next day, she discovered there was a spinning wheel in the villa, as well as a store of carded wool and flax. She thus lived in the villa for three years.

Victorious at last, the king went home with his soldiers, and found the town still in mourning, for the young queen had been beloved by many. His mother tried to comfort the king. She urged him to remarry, but he was more and more unhappy as time when on. At last, in an effort to break his depression, he decided to go hunting alone. In the woods, he was overtaken by a storm and it looked as though the earth would split and break open from all the thunder and lightning.

"If only I might die in this tempest," thought the king. "What reason do I have to go on living without Olivia?"

Through the trees, he spied a faint light and moved toward it in search of shelter. It was a small villa. He knocked, and Olivia opened. He did not recognize her. Olivia was astonished to see the king standing there, wet and cold. "Does he even miss me?" she wondered silently. She welcomed him cordially as a stranger and invited him to the fire to warm himself while she and the children bustled about to make him comfortable.

The king watched her, thinking how much like Olivia she was, but noticing her perfectly normal hands, he shook his head. As the children jumped and played around him, he said aloud, "I might have been blessed with children like that, but they died, alas, with their mother, and here I am, all alone and miserable."

Olivia went to prepare the guest's bed and called her children to her. She whispered to the three-year-olds, "Listen. When we go back to the other room, ask me to spin you a story as I sit at the spinning wheel. I'll refuse and even threaten to slap you, but you keep begging me."

"Yes, Mama. We'll do that," they answered, delighted with the game. When they returned to the fireside, they began saying, "Mama, tell us one of your stories!"

"What are you thinking of! It's late, and the gentleman is tired and doesn't want to hear any story. Besides, I have wool to spin."

"Come on, Mama. Please? Spin us a story!"

"If you're not quiet, I'll slap you!"

"Poor little things," said the king. "How could you slap them? Go on and make them happy. I'm not at all sleepy and would like to hear a story too."

With that encouragement, Olivia sat down at the spinning wheel and began her tale. "Once there was an infant girl who was given by a nobleman to a tenant farmer..."

The king gradually became serious, listened more and more anxiously, asking repeatedly, "And then? And then?" Because it was the life story of his poor wife. He didn't dare get his hopes up, for the mystery of the hands was still unexplained. Finally, be broke down and asked, "And about her hands that were cut off? How did that turn out in the end?"

Olivia, therefore, told about the old washer woman and the enchanted pool. Then she took out the curious old key, which the king, himself, had put on the red, satin cord around her neck.

"Then it is you!" cried the king, and they hugged and kissed. However, after they had given vent to their joy, the king's face darkened. "I must return to the palace at once and punish my mother as she deserves."

"No, not that!" said Olivia. "If you really love me, you must promise not to lay a hand on your mother. She will be sorry enough as it is. Send her back to the convent to live her life in penitence and prayer, if you wish, but do not raise a hand against her. To harm blood kin is a nefarious sin. Anyone who does so will be pursued by a furious spirit to the end of his days."

Thus the king returned to the palace. His mother greeted him. "I was uneasy about you, my son. How did you get through the night, alone out in the storm?"

"I passed a good night, Mama."

"What?" said the queen mother, growing suspicious.

"Yes, at the home of a kind-hearted family who kept my spirits up. It was the first time since Olivia's death that I felt cheerful. By the way, Mama, is Olivia really dead?"

"What do you mean? The whole town was at the funeral."

"Perhaps I should open her grave to lay flowers upon her breast and see with my own eyes..."

"Why all the suspicion?" asked the queen mother, flushed with anger. "Is that any attitude for a son to have toward his mother, doubting her word?"

"Go on, Mama, enough of these lies. Olivia, come in!"

In walked Olivia, leading their children. The queen, who had been crimson with rage, now turned white with fear.

Olivia said, "Don't be afraid. We'll do you no harm. Our joy over finding one another again is too great to feel anything else."

The queen mother returned to the convent. The children of Olivia and the king grew up rosy and white. Olivia felt it was safe enough to contact her foster-family at last, to the joy of everyone. Thus the king and Olivia lived in peace for the rest of their lives.


This story was retold from a folktale collected by Italo Calvino Italian Folktales (1956), translated into English by George Martin (1980). Calvino collected this story, Olive, Calvino #71, from Montale Pistoiese, Italy, in the region of Tuscany. Olivia meant "Olive" or "Olive Tree," a symbol of peace. Indeed, the heroine of this tale clearly is someone who would prefer to leave peaceably with those around her rather than escalate hostilities.

The key was an ancient Italian charm carried for love and good fortune. It was sacred to the Roman Goddess Jana, who was the "queen of secrets" and a lunar Goddess associated with Diana. The Latin word, fortuna, meaning "fortune," derived from fero, meaning "to carry." Hence, keys were carried or worn on a red ribbon in order to carry good luck (la buona fortuna). Nevertheless, the key is my addition to the narrative. In Calvino's version, the heroine, "Olive" (Uliva), was the daughter of a Jew, who left her with a poor Christian family. After more than ten years, the farmer and wife had Olive baptized. As she left her foster family, the farmer's wife gave the girl a copy of the Office of the Blessed Virgin. I substituted the red pouch with salt and the key on the red ribbon for the book. Though this Tuscan tale was recorded as a Christian mystery play of Saint Uliva, I thought it could be used to show a difference in social classes.

The amputation of the heroine's hands and their miraculous restoration is not unique to the matyrdom of Saint Uliva. In the story, The Turkey Hen, Calvino #141, a young mother also regenerated her hands in a pool.

Leland, in his Etruscan Roman Remains, 1892, had a version of the amputated hands motif in The Apple Tree. However, in The Apple Tree, it was the husband, a lord, who amputates his wife's hands. In this case, the amputation was for not providing him with an heir. A holy man told the heroine to embrace an apple tree in the courtyard. The lady would then bear twins. A wicked servant-girl of the household, and the lord's mistress, persuaded the lord that he had not fathered the twins.

Interestingly, the birth of twins can be viewed as decidedly irregular and as possible evidence that the mother has had more than one lover, perhaps a supernatural lover. This motif harks back to Grecco-Roman myth. Hercules, for example, was one of a pair of twins sired by Zeus-Jove on a mortal married woman.

In any case, in The Apple Tree, it is the lord who banished his lady with their two children. The lady's hands were restored by magic waters--like Olivia and Saint Uliva and in Calvino's The Turkey Hen. Like Olivia, the lady resided in an enchanted dwelling in the forest until happily reunited with her husband. She was vindicated when the wicked servant-girl was turned to stone after stating, "May I be turned to stone if this not be true which I have said of thy wife."

The trials of a woman whose hands are mutilated by amputation is a very widespread folktale motif. Versions can be found in Asia and all over Europe (for example, The Arabian Knights and Grimm number 31) as well as in all regions of Italy.

The charm Olivia recited when she found the curious old key under the balcony is a genuine Italian charm to bless a key for good luck.


5. Little Shepherd, or The Three Apples

As a little shepherd boy was driving some of his sheep to market, he passed a woman whom he had never seen before. She was carrying a basket of eggs on her head.

He tossed a stone at the basket. The stone caused the basket to fall and all the eggs to break.

The shepherd boy laughed at his mean prank. Yet, this woman was a strega, or witch, and enraged by his wicked deed, she pronounced a maledizione, or curse, upon him: "You shall grow no bigger until you've wed lovely Bargaglina of the three singing apples."

The shepherd boy just laughed again, but from that day on he ceased to grow.

A year passed, then two. His mother measured him with string and looked into a bowl of water. Then she asked him, "Have you done a bad turn for which someone has placed a curse on you?"

After some more prodding, he finally told his mother about the woman and the basket of eggs. His mother sighed, "As we don't know the woman, you cannot go and beg her forgiveness or offer to pay for her eggs. You've no choice but to go in search of this lovely Bargaglina."

She packed him some food and sent him out. Before he left, the shepherd's mother said, "Remember, it was petty meanness on your part that brought you to this state. Mind you, don't anger someone else with foolish or petty behavior."

The little shepherd asked many people about the lovely Bargaglina, but no one could tell him where to find her.

Eventually, he met a talking fox, who said, "You will have trouble finding the lovely Bargaglina. First, you will have to get three apples kept in a crystal cage. The crystal cage is in a house down this road, a long way. Be careful, for these are singing apples. After you get the crystal cage, you will have to go to a fountain. However, there is an old woman in the house. She sleeps with her eyes open and stays awake with her eyes shut. You must sneak past this old woman. It would be best not to awaken her."

The shepherd traveled on and saw a house with the door open and the crystal cage hanging inside. He saw the old woman, very ancient, sitting with her eyes wide open, staring blankly. He, thus, knew she was asleep.

The little shepherd quickly slipped in, picked up the crystal cage, and started out the door. One of the singing apples sounded a single note. The old woman closed her eyes and cocked her head slightly. The shepherd froze, for he feared that she must be waking up. After what seemed like a very long time, the old woman slowly opened her eyes, staring into empty space.

Realizing the old woman was again fast asleep, the shepherd moved quickly and quietly out the door.

After having successfully snuck away from the old woman, he noticed his mouth was very dry. The shepherd decided to eat one of the apples, as they appeared to be very juicy.

He sliced an apple in half and out popped a tiny and beautiful lady.

"Give me water!" she demanded.

The little shepherd was so surprised by this lovely creature he stood with his mouth open.

Yet, in an instant, she faded and was gone. The shepherd put both halves of the apple back into the crystal cage and hurried on until he reached the fountain. When he reached the fountain, he took out the first apple, which he had cut in half, but it was already turning brown.

He pulled out the second apple and sliced it in half. Again, out sprang a tiny lady who looked exactly like the first one.

"Give me water!" she demanded.

The shepherd glanced around for a cup or bucket. He grabbed the cup and filled it with fountain water, but he was too slow. She faded away and vanished.

The shepherd remembered just how thirsty he was and took a good long drink. Then he carefully refilled the cup and set it beside him. He took out the last apple and gently cut it open. Immediately, a tiny lady appeared, who looked identical to the previous two.

"Give me water!" she demanded.

The shepherd immediately gave her the cup of water, which she drank and splashed upon herself.

Then she said, "I'm lovely Bargaglina. I like spongade," she said. "Go and get me spongade. I'm famished."

Spongade are a type of rolls with raisins, which his mother often baked. Delighted to have found the lovely Bargaglina, the shepherd said, "Yes, wait here. I will bring you spongade!" He ran home and grabbed some spongade without bothering to explain why.

This fountain was visited daily by Ugly Slave. Her mistress and master sent Ugly Slave to haul water from the fountain to their kitchen. She spied Bargaglina waiting by the edge of the fountain. Ugly Slave said, "Why are you so beautiful and tiny, and I am so ugly and big?"

Ugly Slave grabbed the tiny lady and thrust her under the water. She then went about her business of hauling the water to her mistress. Of course, the water Ugly Slave brought back was tainted. She was whipped when everyone got sick from drinking it...but that is another story.

When the shepherd returned with the spongade, he did not see lovely Bargaglina anywhere. He threw the spongade down in disgust. A goose suddenly bobbed to the surface of the fountain and ate the spongade. The goose then followed the shepherd home, though he hardly noticed the bird behind him.

He told his mother he had found the lovely Bargaglina of the three singing apples, but she was now gone and he knew not where to.

His mother sighed and said, "Then I suppose you will have to stay just as you are," for there seemed no cure for the maledizione.

In the meantime, the goose nosed about the yard and built a nest. She laid an egg in the nest, but apparently abandoned it.

From this spot, on which the egg was laid, there sprouted an apple seedling, which grew into a tree. The tree grew rapidly. Eventually it had a crop of juicy apples.

The shepherd's mother had grown old and ailing over the years, while her son remained small and puny. His mother was no longer up to the labor of housekeeping, though she did a little cooking and baking. Yet, one day she picked three large apples, thinking they would be good to bake.

Feeling very ill and tired, she rested the remainder of the afternoon. "I will bake these apples tommorow," she said. She drifted into a deep sleep.

Imagine her amazement when her son awoke her that evening, asking her how she had managed to get so much labor done that day. The house was swept, the dishes and pans washed, and a fire was cooking dinner in a pot.

The shepherd's mother told him it hadn't been her, as she had slept peacefully all afternoon.

After some thought, the shepherd decided to pretend to leave the next day, but instead he would hide behind the door. His mother would go to rest as she often did after breakfast.

The next day, the shepherd pretended to leave. From his hiding place, he heard some water being splashed and spied a very dainty lady, whose face he could not see. She was walking around the house. Singing softly to herself, the lady swept the floor and washed the dishes. Then she picked up a spongade, previously baked by his mother, and ate it.

Unable to contain himself any longer, the shepherd stepped out and asked, "Who are you? Where did you come from?"

"I'm lovely Bargaglina," replied the lady, smiling. "I'm the one you found in the apples. You gave me water from the fountain. You brought me spongade from you mother. Ugly Slave thrust me under the fountain's water, but I turned into a goose. Then, I became the egg the goose laid. From an egg, I changed into a tree seedling. At last, I became apples, which your mother picked and brought into the house. But she is ill, so I became the lovely Bargaglina again to clean your home."

After a stunned pause, the shepherd said, "Bargaglina, will you marry me?"

She consented, and they were soon wed. Due to the lovely Bargaglina's presence, the maledizione was dispelled. At last the shepherd began to grow in height--as did his lovely Bargaglina. To the delight of his old mother, the shepherd's wife bore him three large, healthy boys. The shepherd's house was filled with the sounds of joy.


This story's core is adapted from Calvino #8, The Little Shepherd (Italo Calvino, Italian Folktales, 1956, translated into English by George Martin, 1980). Calvino #8 was a tale collected in Torriglia, near Genoa, Italy. It is a Genoese variant of the distinctly Italian Love of the Three Pomegranates, Calvino #107. Versions of this story are told all over Italy. It is also known as The Three Lemons, The Three Oranges, The Three Walnuts, etc.

I reinserted a motif in these other variants of the story, in which the hero opens all three fruits or walnuts. Usually in these versions, the maiden must be given water immediately. My retelling also bears some similarity to a story, Patana, which was recorded by Leland, Etruscan Roman Remains, 1892 (pp 230-233). However, in Leland's variant, it is a pitcher of milk that is broken with a stone rather than a basket of eggs. Also, in Leland's variant, it is a prince, not a shepherd who performs this thoroughly mean prank. In both cases the foolish, young heros have angered a strega.

In my retelling, I decided to concentrate more on the cycle of transformations experienced by "lovely Bargaglina," who seems to be a vegetation spirit or faery. I removed a passage in which the old woman guarding the apples was fully awakened during the theft. Our hero eludes her and the minions she sends after him by use of a stone, ivory comb, and fog.

Incidentally, I likewise resisted the temptation to turn the old woman into a dragon, as she behaved in a very dragonish manner by sleeping with her eyes open. The old woman is clearly some sort of magical or supernatural person and, according to Calvino, in Tuscany, mago (sorceror) and drago (dragon) are often confused and used interchangeably. In Italian folktales, the names of supernatural beings are not necessarily classified with any precision. A "sorceress" in Piedmont, Italy, for example, was called a masca. In Sicily, a "sorceress" was called mamma-draga, literally meaning "mother dragon."

I also changed part of Bargaglina's transformation. When Bargaglina was drowned by Ugly Slave, she was transformed in Calvino's tale into a fish. The fish was caught and eaten by the shepherd's mother. The apple tree sprouted, not from an egg, but from fish bones tossed out the window. Nevertheless, I inserted a goose, because the pomegranate maiden in The Love of the Three Pomegranates transformed into a bird. A goose seemed, to me, much more appropriate than a fish.


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